22 July 2014

How can Leeds regain its Lustre?

Leeds Town Hall
Source Wikipedia

"Has Leeds lost its Lustre" asks The Lawyer today with the red rose above the white. Though Leeds remains an important legal centre the answer would appear to be "yes". As Catrin Griffiths wrote in "Outflanked in this War of the Roses" 21 July 2014 The Lawyer:
"Firms don’t readily offer up turnover figures split out by region, but headcount figures can tell you a lot of what’s been going on behind the scenes. The Lawyer’s data shows that the Leeds Big Six – Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Sanders Patton Boggs (legacy Hammonds) and Walker Morris – have all markedly reduced their headcounts in the past five years. DLA Piper refuses to give official headcount figures, but we understand it has also seen a drop of around 10 per cent in staff numbers. The biggest resizing has been at Eversheds, which has reduced its total staff numbers by a full third."
Asking "Whatever happened to Leeds" in "Out-of-London is the new London" 16 June 2014  The Lawyer Ms Griffiths noted
"Fifteen years ago it was a legal powerhouse that helped spawn DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Hammonds (now Squire Sanders) and Addleshaw Goddard. But as Manchester’s star has risen, so Leeds’ has fallen ...."
This article considers why that decline has occurred and what if anything can be done about it.

The law firms that Ms Griffiths mentioned grew quickly in the 1990s in response to a massive increase in works as a result of demutualization of building societies and a surge in consumer credit. The banking crisis put paid to both with the result that Leeds's GVA contracted sharply. According to The Lawyer it fell by nearly 6% between 2008 and 2009 while Manchester's actually grew slightly reflecting its regeneration and encouragement of new industries. The result, as Ms Griffiths concluded, is that:
"The Manchester brand has the advantage of a regenerated city, international airport, leading higher education institutions, future high-speed rail, a creative culture hub, BBC Salford (which for anyone living south of Birmingham means Manchester) and a couple of minor football teams."
In short, Manchester is doing better because it has a bigger population and a more diverse economy.

Manchester could do even better (and Leeds very much better) if their respective economic hinterlands were bigger. In "Creating a Northern Counterweight to London is good for the Nation" 5 April 2014 IP North West I referred to World Bank research that doubling a city's size increases its productivity by 3 to 8% and Evan Davis's contention that "if the population of Manchester could be quadrupled it would be between 6 and 16% richer than it is now."

Source Wikipedia

In fact, Manchester and Leeds and also Sheffield and Liverpool are located in an almost continuous built up area that stretches from Wetherby to the Wirral much in the way that Greater Los Angeles stretches from Ventura to San Bernardino in the East and Mission Viejo in the South. As in the North of England the communities of Southern California are separated by large areas of open countryside many of which are state or regional parks. Just as the Pennines separate the Leeds and Sheffield city regions from Greater Manchester and Merseyside the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains separate the towns and cities of the Pacific Coast from those in the San Fernando Valley.

The big difference between Southern California and the North of England is that the former thinks of itself as a cohesive and integrated whole whereas the latter does not. The sense of identity is not the result of local government unification - there are four counties and many municipalities in Greater Los Angeles - or massive infrastructure investment - there is nothing like the HS3 that the Chancellor of the Excehequer proposed a few weeks ago - indeed public transport in Southern California was appalling until a few years ago. It is entirely cultural and the thing that stops those of us in South and West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside from acknowledging that we already live and work in a conurbation of 7 million people and exploiting the economic opportunities of such a market for every type of goods and services (including in particular legal services) is our mindset.

This myopia was brought home to me at the Leeds economic conference at the beginning of this month (see "Power. Performance. Potential. Leeds Economic Conference" 5 July 2014 IP North West). The conference was opened by the Deputy Prime Minister who on this occasion spoke a lot of sense:
"It’s time for us to put aside outdated local rivalries. As we’ve seen with the Local Enterprise Partnerships in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, united we’re stronger."
He made the point that "Northern cities like Leeds aren't just competing with other locations in the south, east or west of England" but also have to rank against global cities like Frankfurt, Lyon, Bangalore and Chengdu for incoming investment. Clegg argued that "Leeds, along with Sheffield and Manchester, can and should form part of a northern hub, driving economic investment and growth across the north of England."
"Together, they can offer investors access to flexible, highly-skilled work forces, world-class universities with cutting-edge research expertise, a strong industrial base and clusters of innovative businesses in high-growth sectors such as precision manufacturing, creative and professional services, healthcare, retail and green industries."
Unfortunately, Clegg was followed by the leaders of Leeds and Wakefield city councils and the Chief Executive of York who really should have known better indulging in what can only be described as Manchester bashing:
"I wasn't going to mention Manchester" said one, "They're only better at self-promotion" said another. "We've hot a bigger economy £55 billion as opposed to £51 million" chimed a third to the general acclamation of the crowd."
I had come to that conference expecting to be buoyed up. After all we were there to celebrate the start of the Tour de France, one of the world's biggest sporting events, from the United Kingdom. I left the Carriageworks Theatre feeling thoroughly downbeat. So long as that sort of thinking prevails, Leeds, its business community and its professional services sector including its law firms will continue to wither on the vine. If on the other hand Leeds and in particular its professional services sector acknowledged that they were already part of a massive economic region and helped to develop it they could recover some of the dynamism that they displayed in the 1990s.

One problem with developing a sense of identity for the region is that it does not have a name. Again, perhaps, we can look to LA for inspiration. An alternative name for Greater Los Angeles is "The Southland". How about "Northland" for South and West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside?